Thursday, August 28, 2014

Quick n' Dirty Parenting

Ever had one of those days when you feel like, despite your best intents, you're just reacting? Nothing is going according to plan, and the best you can do is hang on for dear life?
"Ha!" you say. "Just a day? What about a week? A month? A whole Summer?"
Yeah, me too.
Crayon Box Chronicles
If you browse Pinterest, you'll know that some mommies present their children with elaborate sensory bins filled with beans, water beads, shaving foam, or gravel and accessorized with carefully themed tools, tiny animals, trucks, or miniature toys all of the same color or (better yet) starting with the same letter.

Lucy, 16 months 

Other mommies let their children stand at the breakfast bar and play with the remains of a half-melted smoothie, an abandoned glass of water, a couple of goldfish crackers, and a hunk of cheese.  For thematic accessories, spoons and straws are offered, along with gentle, leading statements like "Wow, that looks like fun! Why don't you use a straw instead dumping it down your shirt?" and "Hey, how about eating that cracker instead of putting it in James' smoothie?!"

All joking aside, I'm counting this a "win" for several reasons
(1) When I returned from the restroom I for once did not (a) shout at the baby and yank her bodily down from the stool, or (b) yell at James for not only abandoning his snack but also leaving his chair in place instead of tipping it over. (What, your children aren't instructed to tip their chairs over as soon as they're done with them? Weird.)
(2) I got 15 minutes of happy play out of it, during which I successfully prepared dinner,
(3) Lucy got to practice saying "Cheese" for the camera. Which was like her 3rd word. And not just 'cause she likes to eat it.

Seriously, folks. I don't know who these mothers are, or what planet their children are from, because I can guarantee that if I spent 20 minutes prepping a sensory bin, my kids would spend 6 minutes playing with it, and then dump it out, at which point I would spent about 15 minutes cleaning it up.  I spent less than 5 minutes cleaning up from Lucy's sensory explorations, and zero prepping it - since the smoothies were at least technically for drinking. (BTW, equal parts frozen watermelon chunks and lemonade makes a Really good smoothie!)
So as far as I'm concerned, this was a perfect example of a great DIY toy. 'Cause remember:

OK, enough ranting. If you've also read my post from last week, you may be thinking - to quote the bard - "she doth protest too much." And you're probably right. I've got a bit of a complex here about being less intentional in my parenting than I think I ought to be. I want to do better. There are specific steps that I could be taking to do better. And yet... it's all going to come out in the wash.
Sometimes quite literally.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thoughts on Zentangle

I've always been a doodler. From grade-school to college, it was a rare page margin that went undecorated. At various times my doodles tended towards stick figures, fantastical cave structures, 3-D geometric constructs, but mostly I drew cartooned dragons, animals and people. Church bulletins were judged purely on the amount of blank space available for said doodles, and I dreamed of creating my own comic strip.

Sometime in late spring, I saw an advert for a class at our library for something called "Zentangle." The black-and-white line art immediately drew my attention, but a mother of three little ones does not typically have an abundance of out-of-the-house free time, and the class was out of the question. I do, however, have a fair bit of leisure time after the kids go to bed, and thus "Zen Doodle" went into the search engine a few days later. Thankfully Google was able to quickly correct my mis-remembered term, and my newest obsession was born.

I came at the art form with some reservations. Much of it seems custom designed for me. See, for all my doodling, I'm really not any good at drawing. I've learned the basics of cartooning, but have no intrinsic feel for the intricacies of pose, perspective, and the like. Even my favorite little dragon character, developed over the eight years of Jr. High and High School, appears in only three or four poses, and he always seems to face to the left! Moreover, I've always been a measure once, cut twice kind of girl. The amount of planning that goes into a well executed drawing - even a cartoon - was mostly more than I was interested in doing. I'm a dilettante! So two of the biggest selling points of Zentangle: its focus on simple, basic, anyone-can-do-this strokes and its codified lack of planning, are pretty much right up my alley.

But there were turnoffs as well, beginning with the name. As a Christian I am instantly leery of the pseudo-Buddhism that has become so popular in recent decades. And as the owner of a fairly rational, pragmatic, engineering-type personality, mysticism in general is a pretty hard sell. (More on this later.)

Some of the limitations built into the official definition also grated on me. I am usually a pretty good rule follower, but for whatever reason in my Art I've always sucked at it. I want to march to the beat of my own drum, follow my own muse, create my own beauty using only my own instincts... My last art class (a college elective) drove me nuts with its project requirements of "only so many colors" or "using this exact medium." I remember gloating to myself over one project as I carefully hid a highly stylized angel in the random shapes that were absolutely Not supposed to be representational. Those same hackles were raised by some of the Zentangle requirements such as the precise size of the tile, the forbidding of the eraser, and the avoidance of all representational forms. And let's be honest, I felt a little cynical about the commercialization that pervades the official site with its overpriced (to me, anyway!) branded products, and pretentious sounding "CZT" program. (Any CZTs who may stumble across this site, please forgive me. These are my initial impressions, which have been at least Partially moderated after several months here!) Oh yeah, and the word "Tangle." Seriously, do we really need that for any reason other than trademarking? Why not just call it doodling?

So I started practicing on printer paper and scrap cardboard using a ultra fine tipped Sharpie. I "rebelliously" added text around the edges, and made intentional flower-and-vine shapes. I never spoke of tangling, only doodling.
And then I bought some Microns, and then I got some blank index cards that I cut into squares, and then I bought some nicer paper that I cut into exactly 3.5 inch squares... do you see where this is heading? I started doing a Lot more browsing of and Pinterest boards, and found that there were very few people likely to judge me for producing "ZIA" (Zentangle-inspired Art) as opposed to true Zentangles - heck, the co-founder herself produces plenty of it! I joined several Facebook groups and started entering Diva challenges. And, finally, I found myself chatting about tangling, sometimes to people I barely even knew.  :}

A total convert? Oh no, I absolutely retain my independence of thought! :) Seriously, I'm always going to have a few reservations, but I have developed a certain comfort level with most of it. And at the same time I have gradually been making the designs and techniques my own - applying them to projects that inspire me, adding color, and basically guiltlessly stepping over into ZIA instead of feeling like a secret rebel. And I've adopted the official definitions and rules as valid starting points - something to help "walk before you can run" - giving instant success, but not intended to hamper or limit expression in a growing artist.

But I do want to talk just a little more about the spiritual aspect of this. While my natural inclination is to throw the baby out with the bathwater, I'd like to think that my perspective on meditation has matured in my adult life, and that I no longer absolutely distrust or nor discount its usefulness as a spiritual practice. That said, my own practice of it is severely lacking.
Now, in point of fact, I believe that All artwork that we do can and Should be a form of worship as we, as little-c creators reflect our Imago Dei of The Big-C Creator. Nevertheless, wouldn't it be better to be truly and intentionally mindful of this fact?!
This is what I was thinking as I tried to rationalize picking up yet another art form. I found myself hoping to combine it with a Christian practice of meditation, centering myself on a specific scripture, or possibly a prayer request.
Unfortunately, I am still Mostly just hoping. Honestly, it's not coming naturally. Maybe I'm not being intentional enough, and with more effort and planning (i.e. a quieter, less distracting location?) it will become a more useful tool. In the meantime, I always have a fear that I am "fish-stickering" my drawings by tacking a verse into whatever white space I have left at the end.

On the other hand, as in most things I am probably being too cynical. My long-term tangling project is a Fruit of the Spirit series. I've been working on it off and on for 2-3 weeks, and while I may not feel like I spend every moment of my drawing in a "meditative state," looking back I honestly Have been more aware of some of the virtues I'd like to see growing in my life, and more prayerful about them.

So I'm going to try to be Zen about it - to entirely misuse a word! - and accept where I am right now in both my spiritual and artistic journey, while continuing to strive for the next step.

But I'm also kind of hoping that the obsession fades a bit here before too long.  I am getting Ridiculously far behind on my scrapbooking!

Diva Challenge #182: Stripes

By pure chance, I'd turned out a 3 inch tile with a stripe-like string on Sunday before the latest Diva challenge was posted. I was eager to do more, though, so this larger one was my Monday project.

So, that field of vaguely hexagonal flowers in the upper right started out as one of the Barney variations.
I didn't like it. It didn't "go" with the other tangles at all, and it was just annoying me. Finally it hit me that I could turn it into flowers by rounding the corners of each hexagon section, which I promptly spent the next 20 minutes doing. It's hardly perfect (what tangle ever is?!), but I am quite a bit happier with it.
I have it in the back of my head that I've seen some hexagonal flowers before that look a little like this, but a search through is not in the cards for this morning. If anyone happens to know what it is, I'd love to hear it!
The rest of the tangles are:
Bottom left: a single iteration of "Croscro," a new favorite.
Next:  a mixture of Printemps, Purrlyz, and several Purrly-like flowers in which I inadvertently spiraled the petals on upside down. I decided to just go with it. :)
Next: Diva Dance with a few flowers thrown in for interest and continuity
Then there are the Barney flowers, and finally an unnamed flower in the top corner.
Over all I am reasonably happy with it, although it's perhaps a Bit busy. :)

Here's the smaller time I did Sunday:
The heavy black vine tangle is one I've been working up on my own. No name yet, but I may eventually gather the courage to do the step out and submit it for consideration. It needs a little better balance first.
I am not remembering the name of the second tangle from the left. I've seen it lots of places but never formally looked it up.
The next is a tangleation /and combination of Arches and Tropicana, and of course there is some Betweed in between.
Thanks for the challenge: this was quite entertaining!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

In Defense of a little Benign Neglect

Like so many of us, I've become a bit of a Pinterest addict over the last year or so. And nestled in between all the recipes I'll never make and the projects I'll never crochet are hundreds of pins for things I'll never do with the kids. Homeschool ideas, general crafts and activities, things to do outside: the list is unending. And despite the number of blog posts I've read on exactly the same subject as the one I am currently writing, there's this little part of me that feels terribly guilty about this.
James here isn't sure whether he's more frustrated with the bee that chased us away from the picnic table, or his sister for trying to grab his last few crackers
You see, it's been a rough summer. Nothing big - no terrible crises, no health problems, injuries, or deaths in the family - just a 16 month old bundle of mischief named Lucy. Honestly, after two kids just 18 months apart, I thought I'd hit my parenting stride. Not that I had everything figured out, not by a long shot. But having executed a move across town with a 3 year old and an 18 month old, I figured I was getting pretty good at multitasking and managing kid chaos. Not so much. Lucy is twice as active as either sibling - and her brother was no slouch! She's into everything, with an infernal instinct for the messiest, most fragile, or most dangerous objects in reach. She greatly prefers food on anyone else's plate to her own. She's a climber: all of the chairs at the dining room table and kitchen bar must be tipped over at all times lest she use them as ladders and wreak havoc. She has the attention span of, well, a 16 month old, and has absolutely no compunctions about letting everyone in earshot know when she's upset, being left out, or simply bored. She despises above all things seeing anyone do Anything that she's not allowed to participate in, and yet her mode of participation tends distinctly towards the destructive. (For instance, despite numerous experiments, she remains convinced that crayons Must be candy!) And did I mention that she doesn't really nap unless she's attached to me?
Please note the tipped-over chair at the bottom of the shot
So, I started the summer with great intentions. We officially started homeschool lessons in late spring, with no plan to stop for the summer. I started a list of activities especially to be done outside.  We even did a few of them. But things quickly deteriorated.  The baby was so incensed at being disallowed from the table during the school lessons that I mostly had to hold her while "teaching."  Attempts to instruct my eldest on, for instance, letter formation had to be limited to about 3 minutes, or the time it would take her to travel from wherever I dumped her down to my son's chair, which she would climb onto so she could grab at his paper or pen. By July, I'd given up. The rest of the Mommy-lead crafty, educational, or simply fun activities I had at the back of my head quickly followed. Frankly, I can barely even read to them: the baby has to be in the middle of things and quickly becomes grabby, to the severe detriment of the book and her mother's patience. 

Instead, we fell into a pattern of visits to the two parks within walking distance, the library, our homeschool co-op (basically a play-date this time of year), and the like. In between times - and there's a Lot of between times - I devote much of my attention to the baby (and maybe occasionally a little housework!) while the older two wander off on their own. To my general frustration and moderate guilt... until I pay a little closer attention to what's actually going on. 

Because what do they Do when they're off on their own? Well, James LOVES his Legos, and we are blessed with a house big enough to have a spare room that can be sealed off from the baby. So there's a Lot of playing for the two of them back there. They also do an enormous amount of role play - which, perhaps unsurprisingly, seems to be split about 50/50 between playing pirates and playing house.  They build forts, make huge messes, and dress up like Darth Vader.
No, they haven't seen the movie. Thanks to "The Piano Guys," they think Darth Vader is a scary looking guy who plays the accordion!
 Often I am able to send them into the enclosed backyard where, after watering the garden (a paid chore for the 5 year old), they play on the climbing structure, fight bad-guys, and build "campfires." On our afternoons at home, I give them strict instructions not to disturb me during nap time unless the house is on fire, a bad-guy is at the door, or someone has broken a leg. (Sometimes this even works!) Baby-free in the dining room at last, I often come down to a puzzle or a game of Candy Land (on which James has taken to "helping" his sister when she gets behind!)  
Yesterday the baby was so excited to go outside with them that I delayed her nap by 45 minutes or so and sat out under the gazebo while they all played. After soaking everything that stood still with a pair of squirt guns, they commenced to plucking the river rocks out of the edging and plunking them into the bucket they were using to fill their weapons. Eventually these same rocks were used to create campfire rings, moved to Another bucket, and finally (at my insistence) trucked back to their beds. 
Yes, my son is wearing his padded, lined spacesuit. Yes, it's 90 degrees. No, he was not willing to select a more sensible outfit!
The Mischief Baby (as her brother calls her!)
Incidentally, at last these were activities in which Lucy could participate with abandon: she loves water play as much as any toddler, and thought the rock transport was thrilling.

What I'm getting at here is that *it's all OK!* The older kids are not suffering from my "neglect." To the contrary, they are thriving.  While Grace is by nature able to entertain herself with ease, James has truly stepped up to the challenge of finding his own activities.  They are learning to play cooperatively and peacefully (Usually. OK, sometimes!) together. They are exercising their imaginations. They are being creative. They are, at times, even learning to include their youngest sister!  

And, while we have given formal academics the boot for a while, we have managed to carve out 10 minutes every now and then to do some Bible memory: they've both gotten the first 6 or 8 out of the AWANA Sparky books down! Note that this is an activity that can easily be done standing up, or while buckled into the car on one of our cross-town visits.  

Obviously, since we are homeschooling, this isn't a long-term sustainable scenario. But neither is Lucy's stage of life. I'm sure she'll continue to present many challenges, but equally certain that within the next 6 to 12 months she'll become a lot easier to handle during projects with her older siblings. And isn't the flexibility of being able to adjust our school times, styles, and etc. as needed one of the reasons we're doing Homeschool in the first place? So what if we don't re-start our school lessons until October, November, or even the first of the year? My five year old is not going to be irretrievably "behind," and my (by then) four year old may be more ready to learn some of the same concepts.  

In any case, there's one more thing I've largely eliminated from my schedule this summer: Adding any more pins to my kid boards on Pinterest! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Diva Challenge #181: Water

So, early this summer I discovered this thing called Zentangle©
More on that later. 'Cause I have thoughts. Lots of thoughts! But for now, dinner is waiting and I want to post my response to The Diva's water challenge.
This is on a classic 3.5 inch tile. I used a Micron 05, B and 7B pencils, and colored with an Inktense pencil (dry) and a little highlighting from a gelly roll glitter pen.  The tangles are Tropicana, Hairy, and N'Zepple. I had quite a bit of fun working on this one - even if the baby did use my inattention as opportunity to empty out most of the Tupperware drawer!